C’mon. There’s only one character on this show that’s safer than Daryl, and that’s little Judith. The last shot of the series finale will be her as a kindergartener, the sole survivor of Rick’s gang, walking off into the sunset with a teddy bear in her arms and an AK-47 slung across her back. Maybe she’ll have inherited Rick’s sheriff hat from her now deceased older brother too, just to make the survivor symbolism extra obvious.
Anyway. For once there’s really nothing to grumble about in yesterday’s episode. The show’s near-fatal flaw is that the characters never stop talking and do things; last night hardly anyone said a word. In the first half-hour alone, there were was a huge explosion and raging fire, four executions by throat-slitting, numerous shots of humans butchered for cannibal feasts, zombies eating screaming people alive, Rick shivving two people in the throat and then machine-gunning another four in the back, and Carol smearing herself with a corpse’s entrails. The second half-hour brought us the Terminus henchman threatening to snap an infant’s neck before being beaten literally to death by Tyreese, followed by Carol hearing harrowing tales of rape from another Terminus flunky before shooting her in the thigh and leaving her to be ripped apart by the undead. Oh, right — there were also more allusions to serial rape in the episode’s final minutes. Basically, the entire 60 minutes was a sneak preview of daily life in ISIS’s caliphate. A show that’s forever threatening to put you to sleep decided to wake you up by punching you in the face repeatedly, and I gotta say — I kinda liked it.
Since this is, after all, a grumble thread, though, let me nitpick a couple of things. One: As gruesome as the throat-slitting scene was, and as famous as the show is for being willing to kill off its main characters, there was no way anyone from Rick’s gang would eat it in that scene. Bob had the lowest odds of survival because he’s such a marginal member of the group but even he was a three to one favorite to survive, I figured. Once the audience has bonded with a character, his death must be freighted with significance; it would be shocking to have him dispatched without a second thought, in ho-hum fashion, as part of a mass execution, even though ho-hum killings would happen during the zombie apocalypse all the time. The execution scene last night may have been an obvious way to grab viewers by the, er, throats and start the new season with a bang, but in its own way it was one of the most realistic murder sequences the show’s ever done — until, of course, it chickened out and spared Rick’s crew just in the nick of time, in classic comic-book fashion. Too bad. Bob and (let’s face it) Glenn have outlasted their usefulness to the show; dispatching them in that scene would have knocked the wind out of viewers and proved that anything really is possible on this show. The writers can’t quite bring themselves to go for the throat, even when they’re literally going for the throat.
Two: The episode’s flashbacks in the boxcar, showing the Terminus gang being brutalized by the goons who overran their compound, were a nice touch but the point they’re meant to illustrate has been made many, many times before on this show. If you watched “The Talking Dead” after last night’s episode or the clip below, you’ll find the producers suddenly taken with the idea that the collapse of civilization would inevitably turn survivors into monsters even when they aspire to be good. Right, but … that’s been the message of the show all along, no? Poor Rick is forever hoping to restore a semblance of civilization and forever being dragged into anarchy (and Bruce-Willis-style action extravanganza heroics) by the necessities of survival in a world gone mad. The whole point of TWD is that you can’t wall yourself off from the apocalypse; it’ll find a way in and force you to sink to its level of violent depravity to repel the threats it presents. Rick’s been dealing with that since Shane went renegade and had to be taken down by little Carl in an act of lost innocence; he tried to build a sanctuary on Hershel’s farm but that went bad, then tried to build one in the prison and that went bad, then ended up blowing up the sanctuary the Governor had built in Woodbury. His character is really just one long internal monologue about whether he’s going to indulge the brutal impulses the zompocalypse is nurturing in him (e.g., his insistence last night that the gang head back to Terminus and murder the last survivors there) or if he’s going to resist and be the civilizing lawman he used to be. Why this is now being treated as a revelation worthy of those quasi-profound flashback bookends in last night’s show, I don’t know. Maybe it’s a portent that we’re going to see some of the other regulars start to indulge their inner monsters. That’d be nice; they’ve all been sweet little angels until now (except Shane), a preposterous character array for a show with this setting.
Speaking of which, it was nice to see Carol get to do the honors in saving the gang last night. She’s the only one of the core group whose character has meaningfully changed over time; for all of the fans’ heavy breathing over Daryl, losing Carol would be a bigger blow. And also, apropos of nothing, nice job by the guy in the Tigers cap who played that Terminus henchman opposite Tyreese. Most of the acting on the show, especially in the disposable “redshirt” parts, is forgettable, but Tiger-cap had a memorable, unnerving nonchalance about him. He’s the flip side of Rick — someone who’s no longer tormented by the facts of life of the apocalypse but rather has internalized them to the point where he’s now indifferent to life and death. He’s not struggling with morality, he’s not power-mad or sadistic like the Governor, he’s just doing the job that keeps him alive. Ho hum. There’d be plenty of those people, the throat-slitters, in this universe. Weird that we haven’t met many of them until now.